WEST ORANGE — Bruce Myrick came up with the idea of a research farm a few years ago after witnessing his church, First Baptist Orlando, set a goal of raising $1 million to feed the homeless people in the community. In 24 hours, the church raised $5.7 million.
“That blew me away,” he said. “I would love to be a part of that, but I don’t have the money right now.”
What he did have, though, was a different plan for feeding people — one that could have far-reaching effects. His three-fold educational project would get children and teens interested in nutrition, give college agriculture students farming experience and introduce a way to teach communities in third-world countries to become self-sufficient on their land.
Myrick’s wife, Carol, is the principal at Edgewood Children’s Ranch, a 47-year-old home for at-risk children in West Orange County. The ranch sits on 107 acres, with ample space to plant a garden.
Valencia College’s horticulture students helped the ranch create the small farm in 2013. Dr. Javier Garces, the director of Valencia’s Horticultural Department, provided the guidance, and additional assistance was brought in when one of Garces’ students insisted he talk to her father, Chuck Trolley, who would eventually sign on as volunteer farm director.
Trolley is an international farm management specialist. His knowledge has been invaluable, Myrick said.
With Trolley’s expertise and guidance, the Education Children’s Ranch Research Farm & Educational Center is now in its third year.
In the first season, beans, eggplant and cucumbers were planted and harvested. By the second season, irrigation was installed; box gardens and towers were built; and radishes, potatoes, carrots and lettuce were added to the farm. The one-acre plot also produces vegetables, such as corn, peas, squash, broccoli and cauliflower, as well as edible flowers.
Today, there are multiple raised-bed gardens plus about 50 bag and box towers in the vertical hydroponic system. This uses much less water than the field does, promoting water conservation. Fertilizer is injected into the irrigation system, too, so it isn’t used unnecessarily, either. Any vegetables not suitable for consumption are put in the compost pile.
Nothing goes to waste, Myrick said. Officials with the St. Johns River Water Management District have been to the farm for the well permitting process and were interested in seeing the water-conserving systems in place, he said.
The ranch’s 60 students go out to the garden once a week for lessons on planting seeds, watering, fertilizing and harvesting, “so the kids are involved from seed to table,” Myrick said.
Their eyes light up when they harvest what they planted and actually get to eat it, Trolley said.
“Every day, we harvest whatever the ranch needs — they get their choice — and whatever they don’t need, we sell,” Trolley said. “The rest is given to the Salvation Army, Second Harvest Food Bank and the Orlando Union Rescue Mission.”
These organizations have, in turn, provided workers for the farm.
But money is needed to keep the operation running, Myrick and Trolley said.
Last week, Trolley was pricing seeds for the fall harvest, which will have 98 different crops.
And then there’s the equipment. Needs range from a cultivator ($1,500) and chisel plow ($3,000) to a well/irrigation system and a 50-horsepower tractor ($50,000 each). Salaries also are needed for the farm manager and a social-media program director. They are seeking a grant writer, too.
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs has supported the farm. She donated $4,500 in excess 2014 campaign funds to the project, which was used to purchase equipment that doubled food production to several tons for the season.
The farm also helps to raise money through subscription farming to support the project.
This is a perfect time to do this project, Myrick said, because people have taken to the farm-to-table concept and the recent push to buy local.
Trolley calls the farm “bio-friendly” because some chemicals are used but assures the community they are not harmful to the environment.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
So what does this one-acre farm at Edgewood Children’s Ranch have to do with the rest of the world?
The idea is to take this project to developing nations to teach people how to provide for themselves.
“You know that saying, ‘If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime’?” Myrick asked. “That’s totally inadequate. We want to teach the people how to dig the pond, grow the fish and feed himself and his family and his neighbors.”
Students are keeping track of what and how much is planted, so when the project grows worldwide, its organizers will know exactly how many towers are needed for a village.
“We want to teach efficiency, how to get the greatest yield with the smallest amount of resources,” he said. “In America, we’re wonderful at shipping food overseas to feed people, but after that they go back to starving. I want to teach people how to feed themselves.”
Starting local is important, though, Myrick said. In July, Orange County School Board leaders and community leaders will tour the garden. Groups interested in touring the farm can send an email to Trolley’s wife at [email protected].
“We’re making a tremendous impact on the lives of the students at Valencia, but our goal is to make an impact around the world,” Myrick said. “Instead of going someplace and doing something for them, if we can go somewhere and teach them how to do it, I honestly believe you can make a difference.”
There are two ways to make a donation.
Checks to Edgewood Children’s Ranch Garden Project can be mailed to 1451 Edgewood Ranch, Orlando, Florida 32835.
Donors may also contribute online at edgewoodranch.com.
For more information, call (407) 295-2464.
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].